diamond geezer

 Monday, March 29, 2004


The Docklands Light Railway first opened in 1987, linking the Isle of Dogs and Stratford to the City. It was a revolutionary concept - guided rails, driverless trains, automatic signalling, the lot. The DLR was unexpectedly successful, not least in its ability to revitalise the communities it passed through, so a further extension to Beckton was soon planned. This extension opened on Monday 28th March 1994, exactly ten years ago yesterday. I never can resist an anniversary, so I spent Sunday afternoon taking the train to one of London's least loved locations, right down at the end of the line. (I know I know, it's a sad excuse for a life)

The Beckton extension was an attempt to breathe new life into the old Royal Docks, an industrial belt of decay clinging to the northern banks of the Thames. The new railway stretched eastwards from Poplar station, a five mile switchback ride on concrete stilts. The photograph to the left shows a typical two-carriage DLR train entering East India station, two stops along the line, with Canary Wharf rising tall in the background. The Greenwich meridian crosses the tracks a few metres outside the station, its position once marked by a line across the tracks, but sadly this is no longer visible. The railway then curves sharply around the mouth of Bow Creek, providing grandstand views of the Millennium Dome across the river, meeting up with the Jubilee and North London lines at Canning Town. Then it's on past the ExCel exhibition centre and out to far-flung Gallions Reach before curling back deep into the heart of darkest Beckton.

These giant white and blue pepperpots form part of the student accommodation at the University of East London, an extremely short walk from Cyprus station. There are nine coloured roundhouses altogether, strung out beside the Royal Albert Dock, far better architecture than the usual student-packed shoeboxes. They form an impressive backdrop to any flight into London City Airport, located just across the water, where a new DLR extension is due to arrive next year. I strolled into the UEL campus yesterday just as a fire alarm went off inside the green cylinder. A crowd of bleary students massed by the dockside, many still lounging in pink dressing gowns, waiting for a couple of trucks of firemen to give them the all clear. Bet the incident was toast-related.

25 years ago Beckton was an under-populated expanse of marshland and heavy industry. Not any more. Thanks to the London Docklands Development Corporation the area is now a thriving family-filled community, nestling around two characterless pubs and a supermarket. Asda is the true heart of the Beckton estate, like some vast retail magnet, but a superstore that can in no way be described as upmarket. White-trainered lads swagger round the aisles with stilettoed girls on their arms. Parents waddle by, trailing fat Beckton-born offspring. Pensioners hobble home pushing cheap tartan baskets on wheels. A selection of tracksuits sit vacantly on the benches by the store entrance. Most of the tiny shops in the small parade outside have closed down, but the betting shop and £7.99 shoe shop continue to trade. Sorry to any residents reading, but it's not a pleasant place to be, even on a Sunday afternoon.

The original village of Beckton was named after Simon Adams Beck, the man responsible for building the local gasworks in 1870. This was no ordinary gasworks, it was Europe's largest, covering an area bigger than the City of London. The gasworks sprawled across 540 acres of flat, low lying marshland, powered by coal brought up the Thames by barge. The chimneys used to belch corrosive yellow smoke into the sky, at least until North Sea natural gas killed off the plant for good. Stanley Kubrick assisted demolition of the site during the filming of Full Metal Jacket, the tumbledown buildings doubling for wartorn Vietnam. A brand new retail park has very recently been opened on part of the site in the shadow of the few remaining gasholders, surrounded by bleak fenced-off wasteland. It beats Asda for shopping, that's for sure, but that's the nicest thing I can say about the place.

Beckton is also the final destination of all the sewage in North London. Joseph Bazalgette, of whom I have written before, terminated his great Northern Outfall Sewer here at the largest sewage treatment plant in Victorian Europe. You're getting the true flavour of the place now, aren't you? Downwind from central London, Beckton was the perfect location for the capital's smelliest, most unpleasant industries and services. East London got heavy industry, while West London got upmarket suburbia. That sewer still slices through Beckton, now heavily disguised as a cycle path called the Greenway. Walking along the top of this ancient highway I could hear the sewage bubbling along through the pipes beneath, and I could smell it too. Brownway more like.

One of the by-products of all this heavy industry was a huge pile of industrial waste. The London Docklands Development Corporation had the waste compacted and re-contoured to form a large mound, the highest artificial hill in London. A dry ski slope was built, and so the Beckton Alps were born. This ski slope survived until 2001, at which point the centre was closed with proposals to build a giant Snowdome on the site instead. Alas, no money was ever forthcoming, so the hill now lies bleak and empty, like a concrete-flecked industrial pyramid. A zig-zag path leads up the side of the slope, now fenced off at the top, but scramble round beneath the deserted viewing platform and you can still find a route to the summit. I did, and the 360º view from the peak was quite fantastic. To the west the distant towers of Docklands, to the north Upton Park and the A13, and far to the east the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge on the M25. I bet the view looks even better in the sunshine. And to the south the estate houses of new Beckton, lapping at the foot of the hill like a sea of brown. It's always been brown round here. First mud, then gasholders, then sewage and now bricks. Some places, it seems, never quite escape their history.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
the ladies who bus
round the rails we go
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel
from the murky depths
exploring urban wastelands

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
The DG Tour of Britain

read the archive
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards